WordPress v. SquareSpace: Choosing the Right Platform for Your Needs

Written by Wholegrain Team - December 1, 2015

WordPress is undoubtedly the most popular content management system out there, but it isn’t the only one. One of its main competitors is SquareSpace, a dedicated website builder that’s aimed at roughly the same audience. Both platforms are reputable and both power lots of websites, but which would be the best option for your needs? Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you decide.

Please note, when talking about WordPress we mean the self-hosted version, not WordPress.com.

1. The Basics

It’s important to note this isn’t a straightforward comparison because both platforms serve a slightly different purpose. So let’s start with a quick look at the basics of each.

WordPress is a free, online open source tool that gives you the ability to build websites. Because it’s open source, developers around the world can access its code and build different functionalities to suit their needs. This means there are numerous themes and plugins that enable you to customise your site as you wish – indeed, the main beauty of WordPress is its flexibility. If you simply want to add content and do basic customisation, you don’t need to know anything about coding, but if you want to unlock its full potential, coding skills are useful or you should consider hiring a WordPress developer.

SquareSpace is an all-in-one platform that acts as a website builder, blogging platform and hosting service. It’s a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based CMS that enables you to create an entire website from scratch with no coding knowledge, nor any prior experience of building websites. It’s not an open source project, so you can only use the themes, plugins and functionalities provided, which means you’re limited in terms of customisation. It’s also not free, but more of that later.

2. Ease of Use

WordPress is suitable for complete beginners up to advanced-level users, and it powers a lot of big name websites. It’s renowned for being very intuitive and easy to use, but there is a slight learning curve for complete beginners who need to familiarise themselves with terms such as posts, pages, categories and tags, and learn how themes and plugins can be used for customisation. The default editor is fairly self-explanatory, and the average user who’s proficient with basic technology should be able to get to grips with it quickly, once they understand the basics.

SquareSpace doesn’t offer anywhere near the same level of choice offered by WordPress, but that gives it the edge in the ease-of-use category. Complete newbies can put together a sleek, professional-looking site and get it online relatively quickly. It functions on a what-you-see-is-what-you-get basis (WYSIWYG) and its drag-and-drop content editor makes organising your site a cinch. It’s this ease of use that drives many people to opt for SquareSpace over WordPress.

3. Design

Users of WordPress-powered sites have a virtually unlimited set of themes at their disposal. Themes control the appearance of your site, and some are free, although the better themes generally range between $50 and $100 each. The best place to find themes is the official theme directory, or on websites like ThemeForest, Organic Themes, or WooThemes. The wonderful thing about WordPress is that if you can modify any of the themes using custom code, or you can code a site from scratch. So if you want a truly unique site, or your needs are likely to change as your business grows and develops, your website can develop and grow with you.

This is one of the fundamental differences between WordPress and SquareSpace, as your options are much more limited. SquareSpace only has a handful of templates to choose between (26 at the current count), although these are very professional in appearance and do include some wiggle room for customisation. However, even employing a little custom CSS code, there is a limit to what you can achieve and you’re likely to hit a brick wall, especially if your business grows and you want your website to reflect that.

4. Features

Here again, WordPress is extremely flexible in terms of features and functionality of your site, as there are over 41,000 plugins available to help you achieve exactly what you want, from a simple informational website, to a massive online publication. And with a little coding knowledge you can also adapt these plugins to suit your needs. It’s not all plain sailing though – not all of the plugins are good quality and they don’t all play nicely together, so before you jump in always look for reviews and evidence that they’re regularly updated. The other issue here is with the sheer amount of plugins on offer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

SquareSpace is much more limited in terms of the features and functionality you can add, as there are far fewer plugins available. However, all plugins are developed by SquareSpace’s own developers so you can be certain they are good quality, and they will integrate and work well together. So this is the less flexible option, although of course it does depend on your needs.

5. Cost

Cost is a little trickier to compare. WordPress itself is absolutely free, however you do need to purchase a hosting account to run your site, and the better themes and plugins cost. Depending on your abilities, you may also need to hire a developer to customise your site.

SquareSpace is not free, although there is a 14-day free trial period. Then you choose between a number of different packages depending on your needs. The Personal package costs $8 per month if paid annually or $12 if paid monthly, and you get 20 pages, galleries and blogs with unlimited bandwidth and storage, can sell a single product and have 2 contributors. The Business package costs $18 or $26 monthly and offers unlimited pages, galleries and blogs, unlimited bandwidth, storage and contributors, and allows you to sell 25 products. The Basic Commerce package costs $26 or $30 monthly, and lets you sell unlimited products, and there is an Advanced Commerce package costing $70 or $80 monthly which offers some advanced features.

Both platforms are reasonably priced to get your website up and running, but WordPress is far more flexible as it allows you to pay for exactly what you need, rather than be confined to certain packages.

6. eCommerce

When it comes to eCommerce, WordPress is leading the pack. You can install a plugin such as the hugely popular WooCommerce by WooThemes, which instantly transforms your website into a fully functioning store. Then choose between a number of eCommerce themes and customise your site as you wish with numerous plugins. There’s no limit to the number of products you can sell, and you can integrate any payment system including PayPal, Stripe, GoogleCheckout, 2Checkout or Bitcoin.

Your options are much more limited with SquareSpace. For a start, you can only use Stripe for payment, which instantly limits your audience as it’s only available in certain countries. The Personal package only allows you to sell a single product, so any more than that and you have to pay for the Business package. If you want to sell over 25 products, you have to opt for one of the Commerce packages, which work out far pricier than the equivalent hosting account, and still don’t give you the same flexibility as WooCommerce.

7. Support

There is no official tech support for WordPress and no single point of contact – depending on your problem you may need to contact WordPress, your hosting company, or your theme/plugin provider. However there are thousands of video tutorials out there along with a large general support community accessible via forums. You also have the option of using a support service such as WP Curve, which adds a monthly fee into the equation, or using a developer to solve an issue.

SquareSpace users, on the other hand, have an award-winning tech support team available 24/7. Emails are generally answered within an hour, and there are live chat options as well as lively community forums. It’s important to note that while they will help with problems and bugs, they’re not there to assist with small tweaks to your site, although they may point you in the right direction if you ask nicely.

8. Data Portability & Scalability

Finally, what happens should you wish to transfer your data to a different CMS, or scale it as your business grows? WordPress gives you complete flexibility. There are in-built tools where you can export data, and backup your theme, plugins and the entire database. You can then move this to another CMS, store it wherever you wish, or change host if you desire.

What’s more, as your business grows, your website can develop and grow with you. You can install new themes and plugins, add additional support or opt for more powerful hosting.

As we’ve already noted, SquareSpace is limited with functionality, so if your business outgrows what’s on offer, you hit a brick wall and your best option is to move to a better CMS. However, the export feature on SquareSpace also has its limitations. You can export some of your content in an XML file, such as your pages, galleries and the blog with all of your posts. But you don’t have the freedom to move all your content, so your product pages, album pages, audio and video cannot be moved easily.

WordPress or SquareSpace?

As with any comparison, much depends on your needs and budget. WordPress is the outright winner if you want complete flexibility over the appearance and functionality of your website, and if your business needs will change over time and you need your website to reflect this. It’s also a far superior option if you want eCommerce functionality. If you have a little technical knowledge, or are prepared to invest some time tackling that initial learning curve, WordPress will give you the freedom and the power to create whatever you want.

However, not all websites need to accommodate business growth. You may not need a large site, or a ton of themes and plugins to choose from. If you have no coding experience, no desire to learn and don’t want to hire a developer, then SquareSpace is an excellent platform to get you started. You can create a beautiful, professional-looking site and get it online with the minimum of fuss. Plus, you have the peace of mind provided by 24/7 tech support.

Where do you stand in the WordPress v. SquareSpace debate? Which platform do you prefer and why? Tell us below.